From: London 24
by Mike Brooke
A man on the run from his East End home has been sentenced to seven years by a court in his absence for organising a £2.6million tobacco smuggling ring.
Leigang Liang, a 39-year-old Chinese national living in Wapping, was one of three men jailed at Lewes Crown Court in Sussex last Thursday.
It follows an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs into 16 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco and 360,000 cigarettes smuggled in from China.
“The motivation of this organised crime gang was pure greed,” said assistant director of HMRC’s criminal investigations department, Martin Brown, after the court hearing.
“They tried to steal £2.6m of public money and flood the streets with counterfeit tobacco.”
The investigation began in October 2010, when 27-year-old Jozef Uhrin was arrested arriving at Gatwick in a van to collect a consignment of 650 kilos of counterfeit tobacco, said the Customs authority.
The tobacco had been imported by airfreight and was set to be sent on to a company run by the third member of the gang, Yimeng Li, 28, who has since admitted storing it at his premises.
The imports were organised by Liang, who worked for a freight-forwarding company, said HM Customs.
They included four-and-a-half tonnes seized by UK Border Agency officers at Gatwick, which led a trail to the rest of the counterfeit tobacco seized by HM Customs in the Midlands and other parts of the country.
The three men were sentenced last week after being convicted at Lewes on December 14.
The Customs authority said Liang had absconded.
Li, a Chinese national living in Southall, west London, and Urin, a Slovakian from Sussex, were each jailed for three-and-a-half years.
A fourth man is being sentenced in the New Year.